Lars Anderson Discovers Japan, Part 6

In one of multiple stories he shared in the initial installment of this series, Lars Anderson noted how unique the umpires are — compared to their U.S. counterparts — in Japan’s Shikoku Island League. Here, in Part 6, the former big leaguer expounds on that subject, then proceeds to address the shoe-soaking humidity and drum-beating, alcohol-fueled festivals.


Lars Anderson: “Former college basketball rager/legendary coach Bob Knight was with us in spirit in a recent game against our foes, the Kagawa Olive Guyners. Fighting Dogs favorite, Sir Chuckie Okada, strode to the plate in a tied game. It was the top of the eighth inning with a runner on first and none out — an obvious bunt situation. But let’s be real… even if it was the first inning, it’d still be an obvious bunt situation here.
“Anyway, Chuckie squared to bunt and the pitcher misfired with a high-and-tight fastball, striking Chuckie in his left hand. He yelped and shook his hand, indicating he had been hit. The other team’s bench wasn’t buying it. They cried, ‘Foul ball-u!”

“The umpire wanted proof so he asked Chuckie to take off his batting glove in order to see if his hand had in fact been hit. Chuckie removed his glove, revealing his reddened, quivering pinky finger. It was enough evidence for the man in blue, and he pointed Chuckie to first base.

“The Olive Garden’s bench erupted with indignant rage and their manager, a Japanese version of Earl Weaver (both in shape and style), came storming onto the field in protest.

“He was adamant that the ball had in fact hit the bat and not Chuckie’s finger. His tirade, which was quite entertaining, although I understood little of it, continued for a few long minutes, but to no avail — the call stood. He walked slowly back to the dugout.

“I was hitting behind Chuckie, so I watched the theatrics from the nearby on-deck circle. I thought the episode was over as I stepped into the batter’s box for my own at-bat. I was wrong.

“I heard commotion coming from the Olive Garden’s dugout again. I turned and looked over my shoulder just in time to witness their manager channel Bobby Knight as he hurled his chair onto the field toward the home-plate umpire and myself. I was in shock.

“Immediately, I focused at the umpire, wholly expecting him to toss the manager then and there. He didn’t, but his face looked was if it was about to spontaneously combust. He absorbed a few more (what I took to be) insults quietly before the manager had his fill and sat down on the bench in the dugout. He let the bat boy retrieve his chair. And he somehow managed to stay in the game.

“As I thought more about the incident, I realized that I have not seen a single ejection this year. Not one. That would be unheard of in America.

“Zak [Colby]’s take on it was interesting and logical. ‘I think it’s a respect thing,’ he said. ‘The managers here are all older, former NPB players. The umpires are younger. It’s almost like the managers are educating the umpires when they argue with them.’

“This is just another clear example of the senior/subordinate dynamic at work in Japan — so very different than the relationship between umpires and managers in the states. Babe Ruth could walk out of the grave and throw his coffin on the field in protest, and there isn’t an American umpire alive that would hesitate to throw him out. In fact, they might relish the opportunity to toss the undead legend from a game, something to tell their spawn.

“In keeping with the theme of temper(ature), the weather has continued to be really, really hot. Navigating through the day consists of finding refuge. Luckily, our apartment has air conditioning. I am, however, scared to see the bill at the end of the month, but it’s totally necessary. I now have far greater appreciation for my sister and her family surviving Virginia summers in their AC-less yurt.

“Playing baseball in this weather, I have now pinpointed the tipping point of my own sanity: when my shoes are so saturated with sweat that water squirts upwards with every step, I’ve had enough. Everything after that is just an obstacle to the goal of being able to take my shoes and socks off and dry my feet out.

“I’ve started bringing a change of cleats for the game. During the smoke break, I change literally every piece of clothing on my body, and that now includes my kicks. And that’s just sweating in clothes that are meant to be sweat in.

“Last week, Yosakoi, a festival unique to Kochi, took place under the suffocating blanket of heat and humidity. Yosakoi could be called a mixture of dance and Mardi Gras, but with a large dose of Japanese class and modesty.

“Big floats drive through the streets with musicians onboard, playing along to canned music (which was not up my musical alley — think “Mortal Kombat” soundtrack). Following the float would be an accompanying dance group doing choreographed moves to their respective float’s music. They dressed in matching clothes and had these little clickers/clippers in their hand for added percussion. Each group competed over the course of the festival and a victor was named at the end.

“I walked to Yosakoi one day after practice, which was a mistake. By the time I arrived, my shirt looked like I’d just run a run a marathon through Hell. The Fighting Dogs had a tent in the midst of the festivities where they were selling beer and merchandise. I watched the song and dance for a few minutes before retreating to their tent where a fan was blowing. I parked my ass in front of said fan until I dried out a bit.

“After my timeout, I rejoined the party and watched as troupe after troupe passed by. I marveled at their ability to wear layers of sleeves, pants, and robes and not pass out. The performers looked so happy, too. And there was equal enthusiasm coming from the crowd that lined both sides of the street. Some spectators even fanned the dancers as they danced on by.

“I was informed that most Japanese towns and cities have their own unique festival. One town’s festival consists of simply drinking all day and night and banging on drums as they walk through the streets. That lasts for three days. I kind of feel like the only way of surviving that would be to get nice and drunk.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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5 years ago

Part 6 of 5000? Please don’t let this be the end.